Red Deer are the largest land-mammal in the UK and most commonly populate the Scottish Highlands. You therefore would not expect to find these majestic creatures just two miles from Bristol City Centre. Ashton Court sits on the city outskirts, made up of around 850 acres of woodland and is residence to a large herd of Red and Fallow Deer. Deer have historically been bred for venison stock and hunting, but there are now many estates that manage deer for ecotourism as an ornamental species.
Deer do not have any predators due to top food chain species such as wolves, bears and lynx having been hunted to extinction in the UK many decades ago. For this reason, deer species are over-populated and cause big problems by over-grazing, destroying habitats for other wildlife. Deer are therefore hunted to maintain a balanced population. Of course any time that a native species is hunted, controversy follows suit. It is certainly a very difficult issue to resolve.
There are however, plans in place to reintroduce the native lynx in to the UK and already trial introductions are being held in parts of Northumberland and Scotland. Lynx are the perfect species to be reintroduced as they not only control the numbers of deer, encouraging woodlands to regrow and allowing the ecosystem to recover, but they are also very shy animals. This medium sized felid is a solitary animal; a secretive creature that will hide away in dense forestry areas. Such an elusive mammal will cause no danger to humans and will prey on deer and foxes in deep forests rather than taking sheep which are kept in open meadows in the UK.
I recently revisited an old photography and birding patch near the Welsh capital, Cardiff in the hope of finding one of the most elusive little birds. Over the years I've spotted many kingfishers in different places but never been closer enough to get a shot I was happy with. Forest Farm in Radyr is one of the best spots I've seen them so far so I started the say full of hope. Plenty of rabbits, moorhens and magpies passed through but the elusive remained elusive. As is the case with most wildlife, things only happen straight away or at the very last moment...it's typical. Just as hope was draining, a flit of blue flew right over the hide and down to the perch directly in front of my lens. All in all the colourful critter stayed for about three minutes after several hours waiting. It was worth the wait.
All childhood instincts return as you wind your way down the snaking country roads, channelled by tall hedgerows, waiting for a gap or a high place to catch a glimpse of that shimmering blue mass, lying invitingly calm in the sunshine. The sea. For me and so many others, it is a constant calling to return to the coast, to take deep breaths of salty air and hear the screech of gulls littering the sky above. Sea birds. There's something about them that intrigues me. There is so much to learn about their lives both on land and at sea and are a collective of ornithological splendour that are so often caught up in both natural and man-made disasters, therefore in great need of conservation.
It is always a pleasure to visit Skomer Island, just off the Welsh coast of Pembrokeshire. Not only for the natural beauty of the land and abundance of wildlife, but also for the feeling that your being there is, in one small way aiding the survival of some of the most charismatic sea birds Britain has to offer. Not only does the money spent on a visit go directly towards the conservation of sea bird colonies, but more interestingly still, the presence of humans, so long as they are sensible and respectful, can help deter predators; allowing Britain's most comical bird, the Puffin, a safer place to raise its young.
As you are packed like salmon onto the Dale Princess (a small price to pay for the experience to come) the excitement is well and truly in the air. A mixture of seasoned island-goers and newcomers listen half-heartedly to the standard safety warnings, whilst distracted somewhat by the surroundings. As the boat bobs along, hugging the coast, the air begins to fill with gasps, shouts and tiny black specks, jetting to and fro across the horizon. Within sight of the small jetty on Skomer the expectations are fulfilled, as puffins, razorbills and guillemot sit in their hundreds upon the shimmering sea or flicker over head with just enough time to distinguish between a bright red and yellow bill or a black one. Further out gannets can be seen, as their long pointed, black-tipped wings flash before folding away and with expert precision they pierce the surface of the sea and no doubt their breakfast too. The long climb up the cliff takes an age as newcomers and seasoned birders alike are distracted by razorbills audibly attacking intruding guillemots on the rocks and the clowns of the sea littering the grassy cliffs, popping in and out of their burrows to see what excitement this boat load has brought.
By the time I discovered the spoonbills, the light was beginning to fade and the parking ticket was beginning to run out. But I believe one of the biggest parts of wildlife photography is the experience and not taking the photo at all. This of course sounds bonkers but I honestly believe that sometimes it's about knowing when to put the camera down and just watch. Learn that species, appreciate their beauty and study their behaviour. Then next time you see that particular animal again, you'll be better prepared for capturing the character behind the species. In this case, I was able to capture a few shots and then step back and appreciate an incredible bird I was not expecting to see.
Anybody who knows me will tell you I have a slight obsession with the Scottish highlands. Lochs, mountains, pine forests, an abundance of wildlife - just a few of my favourite things. One of the best places to visit in the winter is the beautiful Cairngorm National Park. Mountains and forests for the walkers, stunning lochs for the landscapers and quarter of the UK’s rare and endangered wildlife species for the naturalists and conservationists. Of course as a wildlife photographer, it's the elusive wildlife that intrigues me most about this place - and it never disappoints.
Click images to enlarge.
Click images to enlarge.
Of course the favourite to see in the Cairngorms in the charismatic red squirrel. The smaller red cousin of the american grey squirrel used to be common across the country but due to the introduction of american grey that came to the UK with a deadly squirrel pox, the native reds have been constrained to small pockets mainly in the north of the country. The Cairngorms is still one of the only strongholds where the red squirrel is free to roam without any chance of coming into contact with the larger grey. That said, they are still elusive and take some looking and waiting for. The Rothiemurchus estate have set up a hide around an area of forest where they constantly feed the squirrels. For this reason, it's a pretty sure chance of seeing them here if you're prepared to wait for them. They are extremely entertaining to watch and are surprisingly tame. Respect their space and they'll reward you with a wildlife experience you won't forget.